WHEN THE EAGLES go on the clock Thursday evening to make their first-round selection in the draft, be sure to hoist a glass for poor Teddy Bridgewater.

Were it not for the Minnesota Vikings quarterback's misfortune late last August, when he suffered a freak knee injury in practice, the Eagles and their fans would be sitting on their hands Thursday.

They had traded away their 2017 first-round pick four months before that in a predraft deal with the Cleveland Browns to move up and get Carson Wentz.

Then, Bridgewater got hurt and, yada, yada, yada, the Vikings gave the Eagles their first-round pick in a deal for Sam Bradford.

The Bradford trade changed everything for the Eagles. It gave them back a first-round pick that they hope will get them a Pro Bowl player.

It cleared the way for Wentz to start 16 games as a rookie; experience that will be invaluable heading into his second pro season.

Lastly, trading Bradford last fall also helped the Eagles create enough salary-cap room to sign free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery last month.

No matter how well Bradford would've played last year with the Eagles, he would've been tough to trade this year because of his $18 million cap number and the fact that everybody and his brother would've known the Eagles had no intention of keeping him.

If they had released him, they would've absorbed a $4 million cap hit, which, given the Eagles' tight cap situation, probably would have been enough to kill their chances of signing Jeffery.

"(Bradford's) injury history and contract would've limited his trade value," a longtime NFL general manager said. "Because of that, I think his market value would have been limited.

"There's a good chance people would've just waited for him to get cut. Best-case scenario in my mind is maybe they would've been able to get a two (second-round pick) for him. But a lot would've had to go right for that to happen.

"I think it's safe to say that the Bridgewater injury, while a horrible thing for Teddy, couldn't have worked out any better for the Eagles."

The Bradford trade hasn't turned the Eagles into an instant Super Bowl contender, but it has helped hasten the reloading process.

When you add the difference-making potential of Jeffery and the player they will select in the first round Thursday to the invaluable experience Wentz gained last year, it's suddenly not far-fetched to suggest that the Eagles could compete for a playoff spot this season, particularly if they have a solid draft.

"For Carson to get the experience he got last year, to be able to go into Seattle as a rookie and play, to go on the road against the NFC East teams, to play 16 games, that's invaluable," Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "For him to have done that already, that sets us up hopefully for success going forward."

Wentz was the first Eagles quarterback to start 16 games since Donovan McNabb in 2008. His 607 pass attempts were the fifth most in the NFL. His 379 completions were an NFL rookie record.

He had his ups and downs. Had a 103.5 passer rating with seven touchdowns and just one interception in his first four starts, but only a 72.3 rating with nine TDs and 13 interceptions in his last 12.

He's a long way from being a finished product, but he's a lot closer to being one than he would've been if he had spent last season backing up Bradford.

"The biggest benefit is he's got the same system and the same play-caller (head coach Doug Pederson)," said Jon Gruden, the ESPN Monday Night Football analyst and former Tampa Bay Bucs coach. "Not a lot of quarterbacks have that anymore for two seasons in a row.

"He's got, I think, a better receiving corps. And the reps (he got last year) will add up. This won't be his first rodeo. He's going to be able to go into his second year as a starter calling the same plays, handling situations and audibles better than he did the first time around just because of experience."

The X's and O's are just part of the difference for Wentz. Thanks to the 16 starts he got last year he no longer is a starry-eyed kid. He is one of the team's leaders.

"The transition from Year 1 to Year 2, the vocal leadership, the demanding of others that he's done, even in the first week we've been back here (for the offseason workout program), we've seen that," said tight end Zach Ertz.

"The way he's led the whole offense, not just the skill-position players, but also the offensive linemen (has been impressive). Being the vocal guy before the workouts, after the workouts. That vocal transition already is taking place and I think it's going to continue."

Said Pederson: "Coming in the second year, from a leadership standpoint, face of the franchise, he embraces that. This will be big in terms of the way he talks and handles the guys around him. He's obviously capable of doing that. By him going through 16 games last year, there's a level of maturity."

This one's for you, Teddy.

@Pdomo Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog